Monday, November 21, 2016

Fifteen Tall Bearded Irises For the Beginner

By Bryce Williamson
            It is exciting to go to an iris show or an iris garden, view all the lovely flowers, and then decide to add modern varieties to the garden. Like most things there is a “however” attached. And for the new-to-iris gardener the “however” is what to acquire. The issue is further complicated by new iris varieties selling for large sums of money. Thinking about this problem, I came up with a list of 15 Tall Bearded irises that have proven their worth over time and are reasonably priced. While the list, presented in alphabetical order, is not perfect, it is a starting point for an iris collection.
Photo by Rick Tasco
‘Absolute Treasure’ (Tasco, 2006). One of the huge reasons for growing irises is that they provide great blues and violets in a garden, color rarely seen in other flower families. This wonderful light blue approaches true blue; it is an award winner with an Award of Merit in 2010 and a Wister Medal in 2013. What I like most about Absolute Treasure is whether I see it on a one year planting, or in multi-year clumps, this variety produces tall, well branched stalks that hold up the large, ruffled flowers without needing to be staked.
Photo by Rick Tasco
‘Arctic Express’ (Gatty, 96). Joe Gatty produced so many lovely irises and had such a great eye for form. It is no surprise, then, that Arctic Express is noted for its deep ruffling. An American Iris Society Award of Merit winner in 2000, this is the gold standard for current whites. I am a strong believer of the importance of white flowers in the garden; an older variety that has also been proven to be time tested is “Carriage Trade” (Gaulter, 1977).
Photo by Rick Tasco
‘Decadence’ (Blyth, 20). An iris creation from Australia that is noted for being loud, brassy, and ever so colorful. Visitors to a garden always are immediately drawn to this variety with its large, laced flowers. This is not one of those varieties that you have to be a connoisseur to identify—it attracts attention to itself and it is a one of a kind. Decadence won an Award of Merit and the Wister Medal. This bright and ever so colorful iris will become an instant favorite.
Photo by Jeanette Graham
‘Dusky Challenger’ (Schreiner 1986). I first saw Dusky Challenger as a seedling in Oregon where it was attracting attention. With good form and superior branching, it made a climb up the American Iris Society award—Award of Merit in and Dykes Medal in 1992. To burnish its luster, Dusky Challenger has occupied the top position on the AIS Popularity Poll for years; it was quickly voted into the Tall Bearded Iris Society’s Hall of Fame.
Photo by Rick Tasco
‘Golden Panther’ (Tasco, 2000). When I first grew this iris, I thought it was only OK, but it was also growing in the shadow of a huge pine tree. Moved to a better location, it has thrived. An Award of Merit winner in 2004, Wister Medal in 2006 and the Dykes Medal in 2009, I do find that its color varies from garden to garden and season to season. Sometimes it is clearly a gold and other years it is much more bronze. In either case, it is a bright beacon in the yard with easy growth habits.
Photo by Paul Black
‘Happenstance’ (Keppel 2000). When putting together a list of irises for the beginning gardener, I knew that I would want to have a pink on the list. At the time of its introduction this iris received good press and was well liked—an Award of Merit in 2004 and a Wister Medal in 2006. Ten years later it is still very popular due to its strong stalks, good growth habits, and ability to bloom in many areas of the country. Too often pinks are not the best of garden plants.
Photo by Evan Underwood

'Jesse’s Song' (Williamson, 1983). Not the boldest colored plicata in the world, but time has shown this variety to be a great garden iris. Winning an Award of Merit and then a Dykes Medal in 1989, Jesse’s Song has been a hit in the garden and at iris shows. Last year it was in second place on the American Iris Society’s Popularity Poll and it tied for the most Queen of the Show awards in the US. One of the first irises voted into the Tall Bearded Iris Society Hall of Fame, Jesse’s Songs likes to grow and bloom in all parts of the country.
Photo by Evan Underwood
'Lady Friend' (Ghio, 1981). When it was introduced, Lady Friend did get some attention, winning an Award of Merit in 1985; however, while many of the other Award of Merit winners from that year have disappeared from gardens, Lady Friend is still widely grown and continues to be on the AIS Popularity Poll. The main reason is that it is a variety that grows and blooms with ease; secondary reason is that it is one of those unique colors. For those reasons, it is widely grown and appreciated.
Photo by Barbara Nicodemus
'Ozark Rebounder' (Nicodemus, 2003). I was searching for a dark-to-black iris for this list and this became my selection for three reasons. First, Ozark Rebounder has good form in the dark violet to near black color range; second, it grows well around the country; and the third reason is that it reblooms. With reasonable garden culture, it will bloom again in the fall, providing a splash of color. An Award of Merit winner.
Photo by Marilyn Campbell
'Persian Berry' (Gaulter, 1977). Larry Gaulter is in my opinion one of the underrated hybridizers with four wonderful, still grown, creations to his credit—Laurie, Mary Frances, Carriage Trade, and Persian Berry. And Persian Berry, winner of an Award of Merit, is one of those unique varieties—it has never been improved upon. With its lovely color and its distinctive shoulders, it is easy to spot this variety from a far. A home about 3 miles from me has a clump in the front yard and once it blooms, even from a distance, I can spot it. Very distinctive.
Photo by Amazing Iris Garden
‘Queen in Calico’ (Gibson, 1980). Another Award of Merit winner, this “pink” plicata ranks high in that color class. Still lovely these many years after its introduction, I been told that in some climates it may not perform at its best. I recommend talking to a local iris grower or your local club before buying this one, but if it will grow and bloom for you, you will be more than happy.
Photo by Paul Black
‘Queen’s Circle’ (Kerr, 2000). The Emma Cook pattern had been around for years, but Fred Kerr took that pattern to new heights in this wonderful creation. I consider this one of the best Dykes Medal winning irises in recent years. With lovely, large, ruffled flowers, fine branching and bud count, the plants grow and bloom all around the country regardless of climate. No wonder it won a Wister Medal in 2006 before winning the Dykes in 2007.
Photo by Rick Tasco
‘Stairway to Heaven’ (Lauer, 1993). Softly colored, but there is nothing soft about the stalks and plants. A Dykes winner in 2000, Stairway to Heaven grows and blooms with ease, making large clumps in no time. Branching and bud count are also good as this dependable and easy to please garden iris. Popular in all areas, this has been voted into the Tall Bearded Iris Society’s Hall of Fame.
Photo byJeannette Graham
‘That’s All Folks’ (Maryott, 2005). Bill Maryott’s last iris introduction before he transformed himself into a daylily hybridizer and the last one was the one that swept the awards. Winning a Wister Medal in 2011 and the Dykes in 2013, That’s All Folks is noted for strong growth, ramrod straight stalks, and huge, colorful flowers. I am a firm believer in yellows in the garden since they bring a shaft of sunlight even on inclement days. These eye catching flowers will attract attention in the garden.
Photo by Steve Sayers

‘Thornbird’ (Byers, 1989). Lloyd Austin, with his Space Age irises, changed flower form, but it was Monty Byers who stormed the American Iris Society and ended winning three Dykes Medals with Space Age varieties. Thornbird won an Award of Merit in 1993 and the Dykes in 1997. It is also a Tall Bearded Iris Society Hall of Fame iris. It is one of those varieties that the colors can vary widely from area to area and climate to climate, but it is always a garden favorite.

My thanks for the photographers who contributed to this blog. Without their help, it could not have been finished. Lloyd Austin, mentioned in the comments about the iris Thornbird, will be the subject of three upcoming blogs about space age irises, their creation, and a fourth blog will discuss those irises today.


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